Polls, trains and engineers
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Hebrew media review

Polls, trains and engineers

The press says rather than railroad Netanyahu, the High Court gave him an out against the ultra-Orthodox -- though a survey shows his hold on power may be as shaky as the collapsed garage in Tel Aviv was badly engineered

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, left, seen with mayors of the southern Israeli towns on an Ashkelon-Beersheva bound Israel Railways train leaving from the Southern Israeli city of Netivot, September 17, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, left, seen with mayors of the southern Israeli towns on an Ashkelon-Beersheva bound Israel Railways train leaving from the Southern Israeli city of Netivot, September 17, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Tuesday was not a good day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. First, the High Court told him to knock off halting train work on Shabbat, then a poll found the Yesh Atid party could oust him from power if elections were held today. As if that weren’t enough, Wednesday morning brings a report in Haaretz that he has possibly found yet another ruthless dictator to cozy up to, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

At least he’s not buried under three stories of rubble, as three people still were as of Tuesday night, though the story of the collapsed garage in Tel Aviv takes a backseat in two out of three papers Wednesday, leading only Israel Hayom, which continues to focus on the failures that led to the cave-in.

Yedioth Ahronoth, on the other hand, is practically doing a happy dance in clogs over all the bad news to hit Netanyahu, who is appropriately enough on a trip to the Netherlands.

The paper leads off with the High Court smacking him down for trying to put a finger in the dike of a brewing coalition crisis last week by calling off rail work over Shabbat, writing on its front page that the court ruled “Netanyahu overextended his authority.”

The paper’s fine print, though, takes note of the fact that while the court threw the book at Netanyahu, it actually helped the prime minister in the long run, freeing him from the shackles of ultra-Orthodox coalition demands by allowing him to claim his hands are tied.

“Thus Netanyahu was turned into the big winner of the court’s decision that he acted without authority,” the paper writes. “In practice he even warned the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members before the train crisis that if they did not show flexibility on issues of religion and state, the High Court would rule against them – and the High Court decision yesterday, even if not directly so, strengthened his claim and will ease the burden on him in future negotiations against [Haredi] claims.”

Haaretz also puts the story on its front page and links it to its expose from a day earlier that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is looking to shutter corner grocery stores in Tel Aviv on Shabbat (denied by Deri) drawing angry denunciations, including from the White City’s deputy mayor, who accuses Deri of forcing an undue hardship on secular residents.

“Now you’ll need a car on Shabbat not only to visit the sick, hang out with grandma or go to the sea, but also to buy milk,” Meital Lehavi is quoted saying. “It’s important to remember that each city and neighborhood has its own character and it’s better that way. Just as secular people wouldn’t dare to determine the way of life in Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim, Deri should also not intervene in the way of life in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.”

The broadsheet, though, is more concerned with Netanyahu dealing with badder fish than the ultra-Orthodox, namely Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, wanted in the Hague for war crimes, which fittingly enough is where Netanyahu (also wanted there to stand trial) is visiting.

Citing unnamed senior Israeli officials, the paper’s lead story reports that with Sudan moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence and into Saudi Arabia’s, Jerusalem has asked the West to ease up on Khartoum, possibly seeing an opportunity to forge ties with another Muslim and African country.

Last week, according to the report, Israeli officials took the campaign to visiting US Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon.

“Israeli officials said [a] message relayed to Shannon was that the positive steps taken by Sudan must not be ignored, and that American gestures toward Khartoum could be helpful. One thing Sudan has been seeking in the past year is for Washington to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Foreign Ministry officials told the Americans they understand that the U.S. will not lift its sanctions on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, but that increasing the American dialogue with others in the Sudanese government would be a positive move,” the paper reports.

While others have seemingly moved on, Israel Hayom is still lasered in on Monday’s garage collapse and the increasingly hopeless search for three people trapped in the rubble. As on Tuesday, though, the focus is on how the accident could have been easily prevented, with the paper’s headline, “The building never stood a chance,” pretty much saying it all.

“You don’t need to be an engineer to see that this is negligence,” a senior Home Front Command official is quoted telling the paper. “When you see there’s almost no walls but just pillars, and when you see the thickness of the metal, you understand that there was no chance for this building.”

Apparently you do need to be an engineer, though, to know that building a garage is not playing with toys, as a column in the tabloid by Danny Marian, head of the Engineers Association, notes. Marian writes that it’s a bit more complicated than the Home Front Command guy is making it out to be.

“Building isn’t managerial business. This isn’t like managing a firm. I’m not interested in offending any profession, but we are talking here about very complicated engineering elements. There are large dangers in this field. We feel that in what we saw in the Ramat Hahayal disaster,” he writes. “I have no doubt that we will find out what happened – it could have been an engineering fault, or a failure of implementation, or a combination of the two. At the end of the day, anyone who builds a project needs to understand they are not building with Legos. If you don’t do what’s needed, it can kill.”

Haaretz’s lead editorial also tackles the collapse, using it as a peg to bash the government for its inability to beef up worker safety, calling the foot-dragging “criminal” and wondering if good ol’ racism isn’t to blame.

“It’s hard to escape the feeling that the origin of the workers, most of whom are non-Jews, saps the motivation to fight the phenomenon. Three-quarters of the workers killed on construction sites in the past five year were Palestinians, Israeli Arabs or foreign nationals. According to data collected by the Coalition against Construction Accidents, almost 90 percent of such fatalities in the first half of 2016 were non-Jews,” the editorial reads. “The fact that over the past decade, not one contractor who had workers killed or injured on the job had his license suspended shows the extent of the government’s weakness in dealing with the problem.”

If the government won’t make changes, sometimes it means the government needs to change, and a poll on what would happen if elections were called today – with Yesh Atid surpassing Likud 24 seats to 22 – makes news in all three papers, though they don’t all see it the same.

Israel Hayom, known for toeing the Netanyahu line, leads off not with the dramatic results, but with Likud’s insistence the poll is no big deal.

“Many polls, even one done last week, show Likud leading by a large margin,” Likud MK David Biton is quoted saying. “On this specific poll, we are not worried. The pendulum is swinging in our favor on security, society, infrastructure and more. Even the train issue was solved by Likud.”

But in Yedioth, which spares no love for Netanyahu, columnist Sima Kadmon calls the results “cracks in the glacier” and counsels that perhaps the ruling party should not be so smug, especially considering its handling of the train affair.

“True, it’s just a poll and there’s no election on the horizon. And yes, Netanyahu is good in campaigns and no one can turn things around like him … but Netanyahu still has reason to worry … There are those who think the train affair is what caused this tectonic shift, and that is proof that Netanyahu made a big mistake in his handling of the whole issue,” she writes, though it’s not clear the poll was taken before the train crisis. “This time he touched on a nerve sensitive to all of Israeli society, when he caved to the ultra-Orthodox at the expense of the soldiers, and preferred the demands of [Moshe] Gafni and [Yaakov] Litzman over the whole public. This time he went against the nation, and they don’t forgive for that in Likud.”

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